As the healthiest fruit juice, olive oil is a high quality “flavor-enhancer,” which can be used on a variety of dishes. Brian Foster, co-owner of Island Olive Oil and certified olive oil sommelier, is an expert on oil from farm to table.
Olive trees, which come in 1600 varieties, can be thousands of years old and produce fruit every four to five years. Island Olive Oil gathers its oils from orchards in Chile, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey and other places with Mediterranean climates, where olive trees thrive. After the olive oil is pressed, it goes through two stages, sensory analysis and chemical analysis, to determine its quality. “Olive oil has three positive attributes: its fruitiness, its bitterness and its pungency. It should be fruity on the nose and on the front palette. You should have bitterness in your mid-palette and pungency, which is like a tickle, in the back of your throat,” explained Foster. “It shouldn’t even smell like an olive, believe it or not.” The attributes are rated on a scale to determine if the oil is a mild, medium or robust oil. The chemical analysis is done in a lab, where technicians ensure the oil falls into certain parameters established by the FDA and International Olive Oil Council.
Brian Foster examining the trees at Sal Orchard, which is a “relatively new orchard that we were working with to help them improve their quality.” Photos: courtesy of Island Olive Oil
Each type of oil pairs well with certain foods. “The mild oil is more delicate. It is slightly pungent, maybe a little floral,” said Foster. He recommends pairing mild oils with steamed fish, mild greens, scrambled and deviled eggs, aioli or even popcorn. “You can even drizzle a little over your ice cream and it will congeal to create its own frosting.”
“Your medium oil is your mid-levels of fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency,” Foster uses the medium oil for dipping and with a hardier fish, like marlin or swordfish, as well as arugula and roasted vegetables. Medium oil works well on lighter protein, like chicken and turkey, along with pizza and as an ingredient in pastries.
Sommelier Brian Foster testing the quality of the olive oil from a producer farm in Turkey. Foster referred to this oil as “fresh pressed gold!”
“Use your mild and medium oils to work toward the robust one,” suggested Foster. Robust oil works well for grilling with proteins like sausage, beef, steak and lamb. It pairs with hardy pasta sauces, bold cheeses, bitter greens or caramelized vegetables. “It goes really well with garlic, smoky flavors as well.” Foster also mentioned a fun activity to try with robust oil: “Take a really robust oil, swish it around in your mouth and swallow it. Then, take a piece of bitter dark chocolate and another swig of olive oil. That dark chocolate will end up tasting like milk chocolate. It will blow your mind.”
Foster explained a couple of his favorite olive oil dishes. “I do avocado toast, a little bit of sea salt and a drizzle of a light variety of olive oil —the flavors just pop.” He also loves a sashimi with a little bit of olive oil and some Hawaiian sea salt. “It’s how you want to use it. There’s no right or wrong. Just enjoy the olive oil for the flavor it brings to the dish.”
M by Chef Mavro’s signature pesto and its ingredients, including Island Olive Oil’s Family Reserve oil. Photo: courtesy of M by Chef Mavro
M by Chef Mavro uses Island Olive Oil’s Coratina and Family Reserve oils. Chef Mavro has a signature tomato sauce, which includes olive oil, garlic and shallots. “We start with olive oil, and we finish with olive oil,” explained executive chef/owner Jeremy Shigekane, discussing the more peppery oil that is used at the restaurant. Their pesto includes olive oil, as well.
Shigekane’s favorite oil to use at home is a finishing (or mild) oil, which is “a little more floral.” He uses the mild oil on tartar and salads. “I choose that one because I like to eat lighter,” he explained. Shigekane’s tip to olive oil users at home? “Don’t heat up the finishing oil. I like it with a vinaigrette, so I always pair it with lemon, star fruit or orange juice and throw it on a salad.”
Island Olive Oil is also used at Burgers on Bishop. “We use the truffle oil in our ever so popular garlic and truffle fries,” said owner Elizabeth Hata-Watanabe, who also highlights the lemon olive oil in the pasta arugula salad and the balsamic in the balsamic aioli.
“Olive oil starts degrading from the moment it’s pressed,” said Foster, clearing up a common misconception and encouraging olive oil users to take advantage of their oil as soon as they buy it. “You should be cooking with olive oil. That’s what it’s there for!” As our experts note, olive oil is healthy and versatile to meet all of your needs.
Pesto and Vegetable Pasta
Serves 4 | By M by Chef Mavro
8 bundles of tagliatelle
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup pasta water
1 cup sliced eggplant (1/2 in pieces)
1/2 cup radish, quartered
1 cup (4 ounces or 10 pieces) tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cup amaranth, chopped
1 cup tatsoi, chopped
3 tablespoons M’s Pistou Sauce
Cook pasta in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan over medium heat, add eggplant, radish and sear.
Cook for about 3 minutes, add tomatoes and greens cook about 3 minutes. Deglaze with water and M’s Pistou.
Turn off heat, add pasta and toss to coat.